Furhat Robotics visit
The first stop was Furhat Robotics where Nils Hagber, product owner of Furhat Robotics, gave us an interesting presentation about their product. The company’s goal is “creating a world where technology is more human” which they aim to achieve largely through their Furhat social robot. The company originated through the research department of the Speech, Music and Hearing faculty from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology here in Stockholm, from which they still aim to keep to focus on research and academics. The name actually comes from a student leaving their fur hat when they were working on the prototype.
Furhat’s social interaction is done through a back-projection of a face on a face-shaped faceplate. This makes it adaptable and customizable to different face shapes (by changing the faceplate), genders, skin tones and even different characters. This makes it able to be able to change its appearance depending on the use case, which makes it flexible to implement in different situations. It connects to a variety of APIs to make sure to be able to answer a variety of questions and provide a lot of information. Furthermore, the robot knows 35 languages, also using the latest speech synthesizer technology. They believe that the social aspect of the robot really comes from the physical presence, without it being too “uncanny valley”. It doesn’t try to be a replica of a human, just something that has enough familiar characteristics of a human that makes it easier to talk to than a virtual avatar for example.
Q: Will you add posture and gesture to the robot to make it even more social? Since a lot of emotion is also conveyed through body language.
A: There are already a lot of complexities within the facial expressions and speech alone. Competitors are already working on more full-body robots, so we want to stick to our unique selling point with the face technology we’ve developed. Possibly we’ll collaborate with other companies, who knows.
Q: Are people hyped up too much about robots because of the Science Fiction genre?
A: This is not always a problem, but sometimes yet. Science Fiction really helps to get people excited about robotics, but people could get false expectations and be disappointed in the end. Depending on the audience and the goal of our presentation about our product we try to play with these expectations and show our product in a way that best fits.
Q: Did you play around with face-tracking technology of real people and implement that into Furhat?
A: We tried to use the iPhone face scanner technology, because that also measures depth points in the face, and tried mapping it to the face shape of Furhat. It worked but since it was a quick prototype it wasn’t ideal. Maybe in the future, we’ll be able to more easily do that and use Furhat as a “very elaborate video call”
Next up was Scania one of the leading truck manufacturers in the world. One of CreaTe’s alumni, Jim Tolman, works there as part of the Smart Lab research and development department of Scania Stockholm. Our visit started with warm lunch in the canteen after which we split up into two groups to get a tour of the assembly line. This is a big automated line where they spend one entire day producing an entire truck. Because each truck has customization possibilities, all the trucks along the assembly line are a bit different. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside of the assembly line, but image a big zigzag of a lot of stations where each station is responsible for their own (seemingly small) part of the truck.
After that, we went to the Smart Lab, where Jim works. He is responsible for attaining and communicating to the departments that request innovation research from them. Currently, they were working mostly on implementing customizable/flexible automation. Since there is a large customizing factor within the assembly line, it’s hard to implement “hard-coded” automation. Therefore, they are running tests with custom orders, robot arms, and 2D and 3D image recognition to see how automation can be implemented so that it can still adapt to the differences in parts and requirements needed for these customization options. They practice this on the buggy that they also use when training mechanics, to see if it can handle multiple parts and actions, but also because of its smaller scale of course.
Before we completely said goodby to Scania we were surprised with a small batch of rain while waiting for the bus.
At around 16:00 we were back at Stockholm Central and the company visits ended with splitting up into groups and spending the afternoon and dinner as everybody saw fit. Some of the participants attended the bingo night that the Generator Stockholm hostel that we’re staying at was hosting. Sadly we didn’t win 🙁